• March 30, 2015

    Are We "Salty" to the Lost?

    In Luke 15, Jesus declares the heart of God for the lost. With the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons, Jesus declares God great concern and pursuing love for the lost. What is often missed is how he concludes what we read as Luke 14.  "Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall it be restored?" What is he talking about?...

  • March 27, 2015

    Pray for Us to Be Patient

    Just because we are missionaries, we are not perfect. We are far from it. Particularly, I need to learn patience. Things that have been trying my patience in the last few months: - People demanding that we give them our dog, or give them money, when they see us walking or see us in town. Often they demand this rudely without even greeting us first. What would be extremely offensive to do to another Ugandan, they seem to think is okay to do with us because we are foreigners...

  • March 25, 2015

    Making Space

    I’ve been thinking a good deal of late about how we give “space” as a gift to each other. In a society that crowds and over-connects, that resists solitude, perhaps it’s difficult for us to not believe that the solution to every situation, especially painful ones, isn’t more togetherness. And that certainly has a very important function. But I think it also sometimes leads us to wrongly believe that it is our presence that is doing the ultimate work of healing and transformation...

  • March 25, 2015

    March 24, 2015 - Along the Way ...

    Sunday I talked a little about "the cup" which Jesus had to drink in order to do God's will.  It was a difficult cup; a cup full of suffering and pain, which lead to His death, and culminated in His victorious resurrection from the dead.   It was a "cup" that only Jesus could drink because only Jesus was the eternal Son of God in human flesh, and only Jesus was without sin. This got me thinking about what that "cup" means for you and I.   Jesus told James and John that they would indeed drink from this "cup" but that would not guarantee a high position in Jesus' kingdom.

  • March 25, 2015

    Beauty along a Jericho Road

    When Kathie and I arrived to the Lawndale community in 1978, one of the finer business establishments found at the end of one of Lawndale’s beautiful boulevards was notoriously named: ‘The Bucket of Blood.’ People frequented its spirits served and often returned home with a reconfigured face. While Jesus was not referring to this west side tavern, he did reference a certain Jewish cross road, called the Jericho Road. This was the bloody boulevard which connected Israel to Samaria.

  • March 23, 2015

    When Certainty Is Wrong

    Have you ever asked yourself if you are truly saved? How can you be certain that Christianity is true? How can we be sure that the Bible is true and that God exists? If such doubts come across your mind from time to time, you are not alone. Every believer faces some form of uncertainty about faith at some point. Many books have been written to address those questions, for example, Josh McDowell’s best-seller Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Here’s Life Publishers Inc., 1979).

  • March 23, 2015

    A Bag of Dolls

    It’s one of the oddest sights. A huge sack of used dolls, dozens of smiling faces and bodies pressed against the side of a transparent plastic bag with an assortment of loose appendages settled at the bottom. The dolls are castoffs from North America, either thrown out or given away by families as their children outgrow their toys. Through various commercial distribution channels, the dolls, as with clothing and other toys, eventually make their way to countries like Nicaragua where they are sold to vendors who in turn sort, clean, dress, and resell them to their customers...

  • March 23, 2015

    Church as Embassy

    This Sunday morning I’ll be speaking about the phrase “Ministry of Reconciliation” as found in the II Corinthians 5:18. Rather than write out all my notes for Sunday, I thought I would share a couple of powerful quotes that have re-emerged for me. As I wrestled through what it means to live out this call to the ministry of reconciliation, I was struck by the juxtaposition between how the church grew in the first century compared to today. In the church planting world, we are encouraged to ‘launch large’ with lights, camera, and action!

  • March 20, 2015

    Christ-Centered: Who Would Jesus Center? WWJC? (part 1)

    Is it possible that by seeking to move Jesus to the center of our lives or our organizations we are in fact not seeking the Kingdom of God?  If we are called to be Christ-like-ones - which is what Christian means after all - we should be following after Jesus' example and seeking to move to the center the lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and men with withered hands in our world?  Could we be following Jesus more by seeking to center those on the margins than we would be by seeking to bring Jesus to the center?...

  • March 20, 2015

    Kaberamaido TLT - Overcoming Family Violence

    The most encouraging part of every TLT session is when we have the privilege of hearing the pastors report on what God has done, how he has used them in the implementation of their action plans. A pastor taught his church about stewarding the time that God has given to us. The church listened to what he taught and they began to keep proper time management in their worship services. Before, people came at all different times, so they would start late, and that meant they would get home late.

  • March 17, 2015

    Please Be Disturbed

    There I sat in a room crowded with science profs, Christians, all of them talking about evolution. Like Republican politicians these days, I don't know much all about the subject. I can read and I can think (I think), but my inclinations don't take me deeply into the nature of nature. Just don't. "We can choose what we write," Flannery O'Connor once said, "but we can't choose what we write well" (don't ask me for chapter and verse).

  • March 17, 2015

    Nice Versus Needy

    I can not tell you how often this was expressed in my growing up years by those in my church, youth group, and family. It did not take long to see that there was some disagreement as to what "nice" means, but there was agreement that Christian people should be nice. One of the most shocking revelations of my life occurred when I began to read the teachings of Jesus. I discovered that no where did he command believers to be nice. Loving, yes.  Nice, not so much. In fact, I discovered that the goal of my life and the goal of the church was something very different than being a nice person.

  • March 17, 2015

    Losing Your Mother Tongue

    I just read this headline, “North and South Koreans are speaking increasingly different languages; After a 70 year divide, scholars say about a third of everyday words used in the two countries is different.” As I read these words I thought about how people of faith have lost their ability to hear what God is saying through creation/nature/culture.

  • March 17, 2015

    Even If It Takes 20 Years...Let's Start!

    As a teacher of teachers who serve Christ in Nigeria, I explore with my students what is means to teach Christianly.  At seminars and workshops that I lead, this is a common question that comes up. Is there a Christian curriculum? My answer to that is YES and NO. When we look at what is means to teach Christianly, we are talking about having a Biblical worldview.  We are talking about what it means to put on the eyeglasses of scripture – a prescription which allows us to see the world more clearly and make sense of it...

  • March 12, 2015

    Broken but Whole

    I loathe the phrase “broken home.” When I tell people of my family history, of the divorce of my parents, I hear people say “It must be hard to come from a broken home” or “I didn’t know you were from a broken home.” My ears and soul hear that this way “I didn’t know you’re messed up than me” and “There must be something wrong with you.” I know that’s not the intention, but that’s how it comes across...

  • March 12, 2015

    Purging the Floor

    “Judgment begins at the house of God,” Spurgeon says in his explanation of this verse of Psalm 50.  “The trial of the visible people of God will be a most awful ceremonial.  He will thoroughly purge his floor.” If Charles Spurgeon is right in his appraisal of what Asaph claims as a vision, then, in this song of praise to the righteous judge, God is cleaning house. “He will discern between his nominal and his real people,” Spurgeon says, “and that in open court, the whole universe looking on.

  • March 11, 2015

    Joseph 1: "Only in Your Dreams"

    There’s no easy way to put it: Joseph’s family is a mess. His father plays favorites and remains indifferent to the jealousy created by his favoritism. His brothers’ hatred of him escalates into a plot to murder him. Joseph himself comes off as a brat as he struts about in his ornate robe, tattles on his brothers, and indiscriminately describes his dreams of ascending to prominence. It makes me wonder what Joseph’s story is doing in the Bible – at least the part about him and his father and brothers. Why is so much space devoted to this dysfunctional family?...

  • March 10, 2015

    Laos: Deep Desire to Learn - What Happens to that Hunger in the USA?

    n the remote mountains of northern Laos World Renew works with people who, until this generation, never had the chance to go to school.  Now, we are able to bring elementary schools to the villages! The Akha women in this picture of a village development committee meeting are using photos to help them prioritize their village actions. They wish that they could at least speak the majority language of Laos so that they could participate with more confidence in markets and other aspects of social life...

  • March 9, 2015

    I'm Done with Broken

    During Lent, I expect to hear about sin and suffering, but I’m starting to get tired of the word “broken.” Also “brokenness,” “broken world,” “broken people,” and “messy, broken world/people.” Overused words descend into cliché, and I think we might be approaching that territory here. To support my case, I present evidence. I discovered 63 quotations tagged “brokenness” on Goodreads. I know we need shorthands, but I wonder if “broken” is getting a little lazy, a little reductive. I wonder if “broken” allows us to avoid honest self-examination and less pleasant descriptors...

  • March 5, 2015

    Why University Students Should Know Sabbath

    What are God’s purposes for man?  To conform him to the image of God. This is accomplished in the Sabbath as we gather corporately to worship the Lord our God, to receive his sustaining grace through the Word and Spirit, and find ourselves refreshed for another week–a week of witnessing, of temptation, of opportunity, and of struggle. It is also accomplished in resting from our everyday work and enjoying those things which point to the eternal Rest of the New Kingdom.

  • March 4, 2015

    The Women's Car, and Some Cautious Thoughts on Religion

    The women’s car is one of the most fascinating places in the city. The trains are packed, and though women can ride in any car on the train, I’d rather be squashed against an assuming Egyptian grandma than a seventeen-year-old boy. The process of shoving yourself and other people into a crowded metro car involves a lot of bodily contact. So I ride the women’s car.

  • March 4, 2015

    Confessing to One Another

    Confession; what a heavy word. It's a scary word in many ways, a call to air out the dirty places inside us, a call to be vulnerable with someone else. This is not normal today, we're so focused on our privacy, so focused on how we appear to others, that confession goes against most of what we believe is good and healthy for us. Yet the Bible calls us to confess our sins to one another and to pray for each other so that we might be healed...

  • March 4, 2015

    Holy Huddle

    In discussing the purpose of the church in this world, I was talking to a gentleman who sarcastically brought up the phrase 'holy huddle’ in reference to how the church practices fellowship. It was intended as a negative description, that is, congregations gathering together separate from this world in their own 'closedknittedness'. But then I got to thinking: Isn’t the phrase 'holy huddle' a fairly accurate description of the church? Huddles are about the quarterback sharing the vision of the next play. The mission of the team...

  • March 4, 2015

    A Concert in the Cathedral

    Never heard of Hoven, SD? Most people haven't. It's in the middle of the vast reaches of Northern-Plains nowhere, population 400 in 2013. You have to drive a long ways out of the way to get there, but you can't miss it once you do, St. Anthony's twin towers reigning 140 feet up above a landscape so flat all around you can't help think the world is. Father Helmbrecht's vision was gargantuan, but what's just as impressive about St. Anthony's is the way Hoven folks keep it up--and there are fewer of them all the time.

  • March 2, 2015

    Social Media: Living a Virtually Real Life

    Is social media “real life”? When we post photos of our kids playing the snow—is that real life? When we follow the Oscars via Twitter—is that real life? When we engage in heated discussions about politics on Facebook—is that real life? This was the topic at a couple of Pub Theology gatherings I attended this past week. Some say that technology, and in particular, smartphones and iPads, are interrupting and interfering with our lives. We’re never really “there” because any beep or haptic pulse sends us running to “see” what’s happening...

  • March 2, 2015

    Better than Fixed

    I was baffled. I thought I was being helpful and that my suggestions might begin resolving the issues. Yet these conversations routinely stirred up conflict between us. Finally one day when a post-work debriefing once again turned argumentative, Monica yelled (full disclosure: I doubt she actually yelled, but what she said had such an impact that it still echoes in my mind): “I don’t want you to fix it! I just want you to listen!”...

  • March 2, 2015

    Unknown...But Not Unnoticed

    Reading through the 14th chapter of Mark’s gospel there are a few characters there that I would group together under the heading: UNKNOWN…. BUT NOT UNNOTICED. They may not be perfect in their lives, or their expressions of devotion. But they are there. And God noticed. And through the pages of Scripture, generations of believers have noticed. Why no names mentioned?  I wondered that.  And the thought came to me – “Because they are you.” Oh. Could that be?...

  • February 25, 2015

    Ebola -The Multi-faceted Consequences

    Since last March, 3,686 Liberians have directly died from the Ebola outbreak. Although the number of new cases in Liberia has decreased dramatically and is currently very low, there is the ongoing threat of new cases. Hearing about the loss of family members and friends is deeply distressing. However, the numerous other consequences are equally distressing. The first, as we mentioned in last week’s blog, is that touch is no longer acceptable. Can you imagine no more handshakes, hugs or even pats on the back? Will this now become a cultural norm?...

  • February 25, 2015

    Promiscuous Pedagogy

    So our grandson is in Pre-K, which for whatever reason is called TK at school he attends. What content is getting into his head isn't always clear--I'm sure there is some. What's evident, and what makes me laugh just thinking about it, is the way he repeats pedagogy.  I don't know if his teacher has any idea how deeply she's affecting him, but it comes out in his rather extraordinary, ordinary conversation...

  • February 25, 2015

    By Wintery Light

    In the midst of an extremely busy semester, our college has undertaken a campus-wide study of sabbath, a challenge to consider the richness promised when we come into the right balance.  So it feels critical this week to intentionally gentle the pace and reflect. As an English professor that means turning to text.  To help us with a seasonal lectio divina, if you will, I offer two poems to help you find ways to slow down...

  • February 24, 2015

    Animated / Back to the Capital

    Sometimes, when you're learning a new language, words you've been using your whole life begin to take on a new richness. The obvious translation for the word "animado" in Spanish is "animated" in English. When we hear the English version, we often think first of animated films. Then, if we think a bit further, we might imagine an animated person--someone who is lively and energetic.  In Spanish, we think of something slightly different, someone who is is in good spirits, encouraged, or excited.

  • February 23, 2015

    At the Mineralogical Museum

    Hardness has advantages. I think of this today here in Michigan, where the temperatures have been so cold that snow absolutely crackles when car tires push over it. One must cover any exposed skin when going outside, and come back inside quickly. Time-to-frostbite is 30 minutes. Even the furriest living creatures need to hide. The trees long ago shed their soft, tender parts. Their bare branches, hardened for winter, tremor slightly in the brutal air. Flesh is vulnerable. Do I even want a heart of flesh?...

  • February 23, 2015

    Living with Beggars

    In the past 5 years preparing to come back to Uganda, we have received advice and ideas from others and made a  commitment to ourselves to better care for beggars. We still try to avoid giving foolishly and creating dependency, but we want to recognize the humanity of beggars and care for them in some way. We decided to give food to beggars we see in the market each time we go shopping. Honestly, it probably does not accomplish that much, but we hope that if we and other Ugandans give in this way we can at least sustain these elderly beggars to have food and drink for each day.

  • February 23, 2015

    Praying for Ukraine, for Iraq, for Syria, and for Russian and for ISIS

    We pray. We pray hard. We pray fast. We pray “Come, Lord Jesus, come, heal this dry and weary land.” And I wonder, in our anger, in our outrage of the brutality and barbarity of ISIS and the lies and sneakiness of Putin, do we pray for them as well? Do we pray for our enemies? This is a hard one. This is a tough one. I in no way condone their actions... 

  • February 20, 2015

    Siouxland Landscapes

    After forty years I can quote a ton of lovers and admirers of this landscape, Willa Cather to Kathleen Norris because, great beauty and even reverence exists in spades in what's not there. Emptiness can be its own great spiritual reward. Next week, I'll pilgrimage out to Pierre, SD, through Big Bend and Lower Brule Reservation, the Missouri River valley. Most of America would say there's nothing there, but I beg to differ because I've learned that nothing is really something...

  • February 18, 2015

    The Difference Between Fishing and Catching

    At Dordt College’s Day of Encouragement at the beginning of the month, local blogger and author Jennifer Dukes Lee spoke about her favorite childhood vacation memories with her parents which regularly included going fishing with her dad. Her dad always said there’s a difference between “fishing” and “catching.” Sure, actually Father and daughter fishing picture found via Googlecatching some fish is nice, but Jennifer’s dad insisted that he loved just spending time fishing with his daughter. He wanted to spend time with her regardless of how many fish she caught...

  • February 18, 2015

    Running Away

    I read somewhere last week that the Bible is all about people running away from God. It got me thinking, especially about my own life. At 17 I dropped out of school to sail with the navy and to get away from everything for a while and figure out some things in my head and heart. Even when I came back home again, I was always looking to leave, trying to find ways to go somewhere else.

  • February 17, 2015

    Mardi Gras

    While sitting in the breakroom at the furniture store where I worked during college, I once heard one of the salespeople at the store proudly announce that he was giving up swearing for Lent. He was vastly unamused when I said, “You’re not supposed to give up something you shouldn’t do in the first place, are you? That’s like saying you’re giving up child abuse for Lent or something!” I’m pretty sure that after I left the breakroom, he probably swore at me behind my back...

  • February 17, 2015

    Helping That's Actually Helpful

    After spending about a month talking about helping that hurts instead of actually helping, it starts to feel like there is no good way to help. But to believe that one cannot help well is as much as a lie as believing that helping should be easy or is solely about making me (the helper) feel better. One of the Bible verses the book, Helping without Hurting, uses Isaiah 58:10 where it talks about “pouring oneself out for the poor.” There is a sense that helping is not simply something one can ignore or take lightly: we are required to give...

  • February 17, 2015

    Resting Spots - Wisdom From the Garden

    What is true about gardens is also true about churches. Church life can be very hectic and rushed. But churches need resting spots, times when they stop, look around, and take notice. Healthy churches are not just intentional about ministry and programs; they are also put resting spots along the way...

  • February 16, 2015

    Transcendence

    “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” As far as I know, the county in which I live, Sioux County, Iowa, has no citizens of Sioux descent. What’s more, the town in which I lived for forty years—Sioux Center—is in no way a center for the Sioux.  For most of 150 years now, it’s been a center for the Dutch, who were and are of no close relation.  There lies a tale, of course, one that everyone knows:  here and elsewhere across the plains, we won and they lost...

  • February 16, 2015

    Pub Theology On PBS!

    Now, the two groups featured offer two different sort of events--one involves worship, prayer, and a speaker; one has no prayer, no worship, no preaching, just dialogue--yet both reflect a widening desire by many to seek new forms of community, new forms of spirituality, new forms of church. While the Pub Church is explicitly seeking to be a gathering place for Christians, or those seeking to know more about Jesus; Pub Theology gatherings tend to be open spaces for people of all religious traditions, as well as non-religious folks like agnostics, atheists, and humanists...

  • February 16, 2015

    Blessings and Curses - Do They Matter?

    I was reading the last chapter of Ruth this week, and noticed the community gathering round and pronouncing a blessing on Boaz and his marriage to Ruth (Ruth 4:11-12). It got me thinking – how much stock do we place in such pronouncements? Or, for that matter, in the opposite, when we utter curse words and expletives towards others. Do they just vanish into thin air? Or do they have a concrete effect? I suppose we could think of the blessing of the elders towards Boaz and Ruth as mere wishful thinking, as a send-off in a positive frame of mind. But, really, is that ALL it is? Really?...

  • February 12, 2015

    Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

    This year I started reading books together with my friend who is also the pastor of one of our supporting churches. The first book we read together was The Poisonwood Bible. Even though the book's setting is roughly 50 years ago, I was amazed at how many commonalities there are between the missionary life then and our lives in Uganda today. The book also reminded me again about certain things I love about African culture, and things I find disturbing and wrong. Just like there are things I love about my own culture, as well as things in it that I find disturbing and wrong....

  • February 12, 2015

    Knowing the Voice of God...

    How does God lead and direct?  How do we hear God's still small voice? First, we should be reading, reflecting, and thinking about God's word.  I am constantly amazed at how many folks who profess faith who don't daily read God's word.  If this is you, let me encourage you to start.  Read the Psalms daily.  Start with just one or two.  The Psalms were and are the prayer book for God's people.  As you slowly read, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand it.  Take time to read and reflect...

  • February 12, 2015

    Remembering the Past, Facing the Future

    Today's chapter in the story of Lake Worth CRC is that it is now being "re-parented". Sunlight CRC in Port St. Lucie, Florida, was once a daughter of Lake Worth CRC. Today, the child is doing well and has a vision for church planting and church renewal under the leadership of Pastor Scott Vander Ploeg. The leadership of Lake Wroth CRC took the couragsous step of "becoming unorganized" as a church...

  • February 11, 2015

    Take Heart, The Mustard Seed Is Growing!

    The kingdom of God has been in the forefront of my thoughts as of late. I have been having conversations about it with family. I have been discussing it with students on campus. And I have been contemplating the way it provokes us to engage the world around us. Yet, for the most part, I feel that I am in the minority. Bring up the kingdom of God and the hairs on people’s neck bristle.

  • February 10, 2015

    Tending the Inner Flame

    "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Ps. 46:10 If we open our mouths, the flame of the Spirit is quenched. As we shut our mouth, ask the Spirit to re-ignite the flame, and be still before and in the presence of our God, even the smoldering flame comes back to life. I am so thankful for the sabbatical break in my busy life.  A time for silence, listening, and growing.  A time to grow in dependent, listening faith...

     

  • February 10, 2015

    Community

    The first time I saw this t-shirt was a few years back when a group of students came back from Angola Prison in Louisiana. They had spent a week there with a colleague of mine whose heart is focused on ministering to the men who are imprisoned there, many of them for life. I remember thinking that it was funny. I figured whatever else was true of Angola, the folks there had a curious sense of humor. A prison referred to as a “gated community”? Well, ok….I guess...

  • February 10, 2015

    Jim Heynen's Ordinary Sins: Midway Portraits

    The gang of eccentrics that people Jim Heynen's latest book, Ordinary Sins: After Theofrastus, is a collection of midway portraits of men and women, many of whom deserve their own reality shows, most of whom we recognize not because they are strange--they often are--but because, as the title suggests, they are, well, ordinary, just exceedingly so. They're not us, but they're not all that distanced. Ordinary Sins is full of caricatures you can't help but smile to meet because you know them, both in life and in yourself...

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